iranian baklava

The origin of the baklava is highly controversial, claimed by many ethnic groups near Asia Minor. It's widely believed that in the 8th century BC, Assyrians baked pastries with layers of rough dough and chopped nuts, sweetened with a thick honey syrup. Merchants who frequented Mesopotamia carried the baklava back to Greece, where the Greeks devised a method to roll the baklava dough into paper-thin layers ("phyllo" means "leaf" in Greek), and baklava became a delicacy for the very wealthy. Through the silk and spice routes, the baklava spread to the Armenians, Arabs, and Persians, each of whom contributed their own spices and takes on the baklava.

Baklava has innumerable regional variations. It's cut into many different shapes, though always served in small portions because of its richness. One version in northeastern Greece is made with sesame seeds, and in another version the phyllo are not brushed, but hot olive oil is poured over the whole pastry before baking. A Hungarian version uses apricots, and Armenian baklava often contain cinnamon and cloves. The Iranian (aka Persian) baklava uses a combination of almonds and pistachios spiced with cardamom and a rosewater syrup, is lighter and crisper than other versions, and is cut into diamonds.

I've tasted many kinds of baklava, and used to make a version with walnuts, hazelnuts, orange zest, and maple syrup, which was delicious if a bit too heavy. However, I'm a sucker for cardamom and rosewater, so I tried to emulate the traditional Iranian baklava and have to say this version is my new favorite.

Makes 42 small diamonds

Rosewater Syrup:
1 1/2 cup (500g) light agave nectar
1 tablespoon lemon juice and zest from 1 lemon
6 black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup rosewater

Nut Filling:
1.5 cups (200g) raw, shelled pistachios
1.5 cups (250g) raw almonds
2 tablespoons granulated or raw sugar
2 tablespoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 lb frozen phyllo dough, thawed

Rosewater Syrup:
In a medium saucepan, stir together the agave, lemon juice, zest, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, simmer about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. This must have time to cool completely, so chill as necessary. You can also make it several days in advance.

Nut Filling:
Finely chop or grind 2 tablespoons of the pistachios, and set aside for garnish. Add the rest of the pistachios, the almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.
Brush a 13"x9" baking pan (not nonstick) with coconut oil. Heat oven to 300F. Unwrap the phyllo dough on a large cutting board, and with a sharp knife, cut crosswise, then cut each stack to fit the pan.

Place a phyllo sheet in the baking pan and with a pastry brush completely with coconut oil.

Repeat with 7 sheets, brushing each
with oil. Evenly sprinkle about
2/3 cup of the nut filling over the phyllo.

Layer another 4 phyllo sheets, dabbing each with oil, then sprinkle another 2/3 cup of nut filling. Repeat with 4 sheets and 2/3 cup filling twice more. On the last, fourth layer of nuts, use up the rest of the filling. Top with another 8 layers of phyllo, brushing each with oil. Reserve the best-looking, most intact sheets for the top layers.

Score through the top layers of the baklava with a sharp knife lengthwise into 6 strips and diagonally into 8 strips to form diamond shaped pieces. Pour the remaining oil over the pastry, then lightly sprinkle water over the top (which helps prevent curling during baking). Bake until golden, about 90 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Remove from oven and immediately pour the syrup evenly over the pastry. Sprinkle the center of each piece with some of the reserved chopped pistachios. Let sit at least 3 hours or overnight, then cut the rest of the way through the scored pieces. Serve at room temperature, preferably with coffee. If the baklava are excessively sticky, serve in muffin cups.


cocoa nib hazelnut shake

In this rich, thick smoothie, coffee granules give the chocolate a deeper flavor, and cocoa nibs create a slightly gritty texture (sort of like Turkish coffee), but if either of these are not to your taste you can leave them out. Hazelnuts can also be replaced with raw almonds.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup nondairy milk
1/3 cup (50g) raw hazelnuts
5 soft dates, pitted
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
pinch of salt
6 ice cubes (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup cocoa nibs

In a blender, add the milk, hazelnuts, dates, cocoa powder, vanilla, coffee granules (if using). Blend on a high for a couple minutes, until completely creamy. Add the ice cubes and 3 tablespoons of the cocoa nibs, and blend until broken down (if you blend the ice too long it will melt, resulting in a watery smoothie). Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining cocoa nibs.


ginger miso dressing

This dressing is a fairly versatile sauce, but recently I've been craving this on top of kale, at least once a day. For some reason I only recently realized kale can be very delicious eaten raw just like salad greens, and this dressing has a very strong bite which can stand up to the robust earthy kale flavor. Just wash the kale, de-stem, and chop or rip into bite-sized pieces. I usually top it with quinoa and raw sunflower seeds or toasted cashews.

Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon agave or brown rice syrup
about 1/4 cup water
1" nub of ginger, peeled (1 tablespoon minced)

Vigorously stir together the miso, tahini, vinegar, curry powder, and agave. Stir in the water until the dressing reaches the desired consistency. Chop the ginger very finely or grate the peeled ginger nub with a citrus zester and then stir in. Alternatively, throw all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth.


cardamom rose ice cream

Makes 1 quart

1 can (1.75 cups) coconut milk
3/4 cup agave nectar
1 cup almond milk or other nondairy milk
1 tablespoon finely ground cardamom
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
3 tablespoons rosewater

Whisk together 1/4 cup almond milk and the arrowroot, then set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk, agave, cardamom, and remaining almond milk to a boil over medium-low heat. Add the arrowroot mixture and whisk vigorously, until thickened, then remove from heat. Stir in the rosewater. Chill, covered, at least 3 hours or overnight. Freeze in an ice cream machine. Serve with chopped pistachios or toasted coconut.


classic chocolate chip cookies

I've been working on the perfect classic chocolate chip cookie recipe since I became vegan, and finally, here they are, soft, chewy, and fluffy all at the same time. Don't ask me how coconut oil, olive oil, and almond flour unite to create a buttery, eggy flavor, but just trust me. It works.

  • The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least an hour so it doesn't spread as much in the oven, but I think the flavor improves the longer it sits--I recommend letting it chill overnight.
  • The pecans add an excellent flavor, but if you have to use a different nut, I think toasted, chopped almonds are second-best. Be sure to buy the nuts raw and toast them yourself just before chopping for the most delicious flavor. I toast them in the skillet over low heat for a few minutes, stirring often, until browned and fragrant. 
  • Almond flour can be found in the gluten-free baking section of most grocery stores, but is usually cheapest in the bulk sections of health food stores. You can also grind blanched slivered almonds in a coffee grinder or food processor, scraping the sides occasionally, until the ground nuts just begin to clump. 
  • Any leftover cookies (really?) can be stored in an airtight container for several days. 
Makes 2 dozen large cookies
Needs at least 1 hour to chill

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (preferably golden)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup nondairy milk (I use almond)
1-2 tablespoons vanilla
1.5 cup brown sugar or Sucanat
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup almond flour
1+1/3 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt

2 cups pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (see TIPS)
1.5 cups vegan chocolate chips

Whisk together the flax, cornstarch, and milk for a few minutes, until thick and goopy. Add the vanilla, sugar, and oils, and whisk for a few minutes, until the oils have solidified a bit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients, and stir until just combined. Add the nuts and chocolate chips.

Wrap tightly in parchment paper and refrigerate at least an hour, or up to a couple days (see TIPS). If you're going to let it sit more then a few hours, place in a sealed container so that it doesn't dry out or pick up refrigerator flavors.

Preheat the oven to 350. Shape the dough into balls 1.5"-2" in diameter. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until well browned around the edges. Bake one sheet at a time for even baking, and keep the rest of the dough in the fridge until ready to cook. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute, then transfer to a plate or cooling rack. Best served with a tall glass of almond milk.